Football tournament unites communities
Motaz Bahageel is from Sudan and Hasan and Rizwan are from Egypt. Other teammates are from Palestine, India and Malaysia.
These are ‘The Avengers’, a pick up team of local doctors who competed in the recent ‘AMES Australia Multicultural Cup’, a community soccer tournament held in Mildura.
The Avengers doctors are mostly skilled migrants who work at the local Mildura Base Public Hospital.
Motaz said that as newcomers to the town he and his colleagues felt a responsibility to make connections in the community.
“We feel like we want to build deeper connections into the community and the tournament is one way of doing that,” he said.
The tournament saw about ten teams representing about 120 players and 150 spectators come together over two days in a celebration of sport and multiculturalism.
There were teams representing local communities, including from: Vietnam, Malaysia, Burundi, the Congo, Vanuatu, Nepal as well as pan-African and pan-Asian teams.
Now in its second year, the tournament has introduced many newcomers to the local mainstream soccer competition and it has helped to forge links between diverse communities living in Mildura.
Football Federation Sunraysia General Manager Susan Watts says the tournament has introduced newly arrived players to the local competition.
“We have had people turn up with little or no English so we are trying to get them involved in less formal ways,” she said.
A local farmer has even paid the registration fees for some new arrivals to be able to play.
“Before this tournament there was really only one club, Mildura United, that was welcoming of players from diverse backgrounds but now all of the clubs see the value in attracting new comers,” Susan said.
“And the Multicultural Cup tournament has played a role in that. It has brought new players into the game.”
President of Mildura United John Koutlis says the club, originally founded by Greeks, has long been welcoming to people from diverse communities.
“We have a philosophy that everyone is welcome. As long as they understand our values of hard work and teamwork, anyone is welcome here,” he said.
Twenty or more years ago the club invited some local Koori kids to come and play when they were struggling to find something to do.
The move meant that some white players left the club and it lost sponsorship but in the long run it prospered.
The club has a vision for its players, not to follow an elite pathway but, rather, any sporting pathway in which they could connect with the community and learn from the team culture.
Last year, former Socceroo captain Craig Foster was present at the inaugural tournament. He spoke at the tournament dinner and even played in a few matches.
He said that football is the perfect metaphor for an equitable and harmonious world.
The former players and human rights advocate says football represents a world view that sees everyone as essentially equal.
“There are rules in the game that apply to everyone no matter who they are or where they come from,” he said.
“I think you can see something similar to a human rights framework in the game of football. Here is the pitch and here are the regulations we have agreed to. “And I think sport can be a powerful tool for us to promote respect and equity and it is powerful agent for social change,” he said.